This article by Karen Jowers originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.
Many military families will soon see a large and welcome decrease in their child care fees — in some cases, a cut of more than 40%, according to Military Times’ calculations.
The lower rates will especially benefit those in the lower income categories. As before, the fees are based on total family income, to include spouse income and other sources.
For many families, the bigger decreases come because they will move into a lower fee category. Defense officials have collapsed the number of fee categories from 14 to 11, with higher income levels for each category. It affects the amount of money parents pay for full-time child care in child development centers, as well as other programs such as fee assistance programs for child care in the civilian community.
Information on new fees for school-age child care programs was not available. The services and DoD will provide more information later this year about the guidance and policies surrounding the new fees in full-time and part-time programs. The services are required to implement the new fees by January.
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Military child care has long been recognized by families as safe, high-quality care with many stringent requirements focusing on the overall development of the child. In some areas, there are long waiting lists for military child care, and there have been efforts over the past decade to build more centers, and to expand affordable options for child care in the civilian community.
For those in the lowest income category, the weekly child care fee has decreased from $58 to $54, a difference of $4. But the income cap in Category 1 has increased from $30,810 to $45,000, so more people will be in that lowest category and eligible for lower fees.
Thus, a service member with a total family income of $45,000 will be paying $54 a week, compared to $82 a week in the current higher income category. That’s a savings of $28 a week, a 34% drop.
Military family advocates applaud these reductions.
“DoD gets it. The services get it. This is a readiness issue,” said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association.
The changes will affect every family differently, and based on Military Times’ calculations of a few income levels, the percentages are wide ranging. The highest income category is now $160,001 and above, where service members will be paying $215 a week. That’s a 2% increase over what those in the highest income category were paying previously.
The reductions in basic fees are designed to reduce the burden on lower income military families, and to meet the intent of an executive order signed in April by President Joe Biden that directs DoD to improve the affordability of child care on military installations.
DoD subsidizes the cost of child care.
“Changes to the fee policy will ensure that DoD can continue to invest in our service members by providing quality, affordable child care through both installation-based programs and community-based fee assistance,” said Grier Martin, acting assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, in a news release.
“We’re committed to addressing the increased demand and challenges for this critical issue which directly impacts the readiness of the total force.”
Here are some additional examples of the reductions, calculated by Military Times and confirmed by DoD:
- $55,000 annual total family income: Current weekly full-time child care fee $102; new weekly fee $61 (-40% change)
- $65,000 annual total family income: Current weekly full-time child care fee $121; new weekly fee $74 (-39% change)
- $90,000 annual total family income: Current weekly full-time child care fee $143; new weekly fee $104 (-27% change)
- $115,000 annual total family income: Current weekly full-time child care fee $154; new weekly fee $138 (-10% change)
(Military Times’ calculations, based on DoD documents)
Military families should check with their child development centers or school-age care program to find out how the changes will affect their individual costs.
The fees for military child care are the same regardless of the child’s age. A parent pays the same fee for an infant that they’d pay for a 3-year-old, for example, unlike most child care in the civilian community.
Civilian costs vary widely across the country, but, as one example, the weekly charge for infant full-time care in Fairfax County, Virginia, ranged between $403 to $512, according to 2022 numbers on the county’s website.
The new military rates also benefit parents who use the child care fee assistance programs, which are offered by the services to help pay for the cost of child care in the community under certain circumstances.
The fee assistance programs are tied to the total family income categories. The fee assistance subsidy, paid to eligible child care providers, is based on the difference between what the service member would pay in the applicable DoD total family income category, and the community-based child care provider’s fee, within limits.
DoD has also increased the provider rate cap in the fee assistance program from $1,700 per month, per child to $1,800 per month, per child.
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